Document Type


Article Version

Publisher's PDF

Publication Date

Summer 2000


This article critically examines several theoretical perspectives which deal with the origins of capitalism in western Europe. The author examines the main arguments elaborated in these perspectives and attempts to rethink the long-term history of socioeconomic and political processes. In seeking to comprehend the transition from feudalism to capitalism, one should attempt to look at the European Middle Ages without prejudice and see to what extent, why, and how embryonic forms and features of capitalism within an intercity-state system came into being, matured, expanded, and intensified during the "long" sixteenth century. An alternative theoretical framework is presented, based on the hypothesis that one should move beyond the limited focus of the nation-state as the exclusive unit of analysis, in order to comprehend the European transition.

[ A substantially revised version of this article was translated into Japanese and published in the Japanese quarterly journal KAN, Vol. 34, July 2008, p.186-211.]


Copyright 2000 SUNY Binghamton University

Archived with the permission of the author and the copyright holder.

Publication Title

Review of the Fernand Braudel Center

Published Citation

Mielants, Eric. “Perspectives on the Origins of Merchant Capitalism in Europe” in Review of the Fernand Braudel Center, Vol. 23 (2), Fall 2000, p.229-292.

Peer Reviewed